Apple butter is essentially a slow cooked apple sauce with a few spices thrown in. As the applesauce cooks the sugar from the apples caramelizes and reduces into a thick deep amber “butter.” Traditionally spread on breads in place of butter, thus the name apple “butter.”
Apple butter is a household staple where I grew up in Pennsylvania Dutch (Deuitch) country although its origins are rooted in Europe. In Germany it is called Apfel Kraut, and in the Netherlands Appel Stroop.
Apple butter recipes came to America with German speaking Lutherans, Reformed, and Anti-baptist religious groups from Germany, France, and Switzerland when they immigrated to the United states in late 17th century. The settlers chose Southeastern Pennsylvania for is rich soil that was suitable for the farming practices they used in Europe. Both Amish and Mennonite farm communities were established which exist, mostly unchanged, to this day. Not only did these settlers introduce their sustainable farming methods in Pennsylvania, but also their hearty Pennsylvania Dutch cooking!
Apple butter is actually very easy to make and has endless applications beyond being spread on bread which is irresistibly good by the way. It is also a heady addition to pies, pastries, slow roasted meats, BBQ sauces, salad dressings, or served along with farm made cheeses. Try adding apple butter tossed in with your apples the next time you’re baking an apple pie. The results are transformative!
Traditionally apple butter is “put up” in the fall on Pennsylvania Dutch farms to last until the next apple harvest. Likewise, this is one pantry staple you will find you will want to have on hand year round, I promise.
Pennsylvania Dutch Apple Butter
Makes about 3 cups
- 2 lbs./1 kilo firm crisp juicy apples
- 2 cups/500ml apple cider or apple juice
- 1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
- ½ teaspoon flaked sea salt
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon Saigon cinnamon (or other variety) Note: about Saigon Cinnamon (click here)
- ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
Peel, core, quarter, and chop the apples and place them in a nonreactive oven proof braising pan. Add the cider (or apple juice), the brown sugar, and salt and stir to combine. Place over medium heat on the stove top and when simmering partially cover the pan and continue to simmer, stirring occasionally, until the apples are very soft, about 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 250f/130c
Remove the pan from the stove and allow to cool for a few minutes. Then blend the apples along with the liquid using a hand held immersion blender, or transfer the apples and liquid to a blender, and blend until the mixture is completely smooth with the consistency of apple sauce.
Stir in the lemon juice, cinnamon, and cloves until combined and transfer the pan to the oven, uncovered, and bake for several hours, stirring every 30 minutes. The mixture will slowly turn an amber color as the sugar caramelizes and the liquid reduces. I’ve found it generally takes about 3 hours, but every oven is different, so keep an eye on it until apple butter reaches a deep amber color with a thick spreadable consistency.
Remove the pan from the oven and set on a wire rack to cool to room temperature.
For storage: Sterilize a couple of jars along with their lids with boiling water. Spoon the apple butter into the jars, seal tightly, and refrigerate for up to about a month.
For longer storage follow standard hot water bath canning procedures and when sealed and cooled to room temperature, store in a dark place in your pantry for up to a year.